New Era Correspondent
It started way back in late January, early February.
Small groups of kids meeting in elementary school gyms, in empty warehouses all across Lancaster County. Hitting in the cage, taking grounders, getting a head start on the baseball season.
It ended last night at Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field, where Manheim Township Black defeated the Mountville Indians 4-1 to win the Midget-Midget Division championship and ring down the curtain on the 56th New Era Tournament .
Black’s battery of pitcher Austin Gallagher and catcher Nick Downey gave Township (28-7) all it needed to turn aside the Indians.
Downey gave his pitcher all the support he would need, driving in three runs with a third-inning double. Paul Hester iced the cake with an inside-the-park home run in the fifth inning on a ball that rightfielder Geoffrey Hess charged, trying to make a shoestring catch.
Gallagher held Mountville (29-24) to a run on three hits. Living on the inside corner, he got six groundballs and three popups to go with seven strikeouts.
“I was really throwing hard,” he said. “(Before the game) my dad helped me change a lot of things with my windup. I feel this is my best game I’ve had.”
“We worked on a couple things with his release point,” said Austin’s dad, Glenn, who is Township’s manager. “Probably a stupid coaching move (the day of a championship game), but it got him to throw the ball harder. He got a little wild, but he smoked.”
He was a little wild, although he only issued two walks, both to Jonathon Moser. He did hit three batters, two back-to-back in the second inning. But Mountville couldn’t mount any sustained offense until the sixth inning.
“I threw inside, mostly because their hitters were standing on the plate. I just tried to jam them,” Austin said.
“He sawed a lot of hitters off today,” agreed Glenn.
Gallagher had retired seven in a row going into the sixth, but Moser walked with one out and Jason Graham got hit by a pitch. Zach Rineer lifted a hit behind first base, scoring pinchrunner Aaron Brenneman. Graham took third as the ball got loose in right field.
Gallagher bore down to strike out the next two hitters and end the game, making his dad the only baseball coach in America to manage a team (Millersville) to the NCAA Div.II College World Series and win a New Era Tournament championship.
“It’s a different type of emotion,” Glenn Gallagher said. “This is great because my son’s involved in it and these kids are great to coach. When I first took over this team, I thought we’d go .500. Austin and (shortstop) Paul Hester are the only two kids back from last year (when Township lost in the New Era semis to eventual champion Manheim).
“But we just kept getting better and better, and when we won the Mountville tournament , it was a turning point. We started playing really well and we won like 13, 14 games in a row.”
Township would eventually win three in-season tournaments, plus the Penn Manor League tournament, but this was what it pointed to from the start.
“At first, I don’t think a lot of the kids knew what it was all about,” Glenn Gallagher said, “but Austin and Paul did, and that’s all they talked about.”
They turned that talk into action, but it was a lack of action that provided the path to victory Tuesday night.
Mountville starter Zach Rineer had faced 42 batters in the Indians’ first two tournament games and didn’t walk one. He went seven more batters in the first two innings Tuesday before Robert Schimaneck walked to lead off the third inning.
Then, Rineer walked Wil Bruey and Hester, loading the bases.
“We’re pretty patient hitters,” said Glenn Gallagher. “(Rineer) tries to get you to chase his curveball, and we laid off of it.”
“He wasn’t missing by a lot,” said Mountville coach Bob Sauders. “You know, he’s just 12 years old. He just hit a streak there, where they weren’t going after his pitches.”
Sauders lifted his pitcher and brought in Graham to face Downey, who loaded up on a fastball.
“I got it on the right part of the bat and just ripped it,” he said.
“Nick doesn’t really swing at bad pitches,” Glenn Gallagher said. “I thought, “I’m not going to put the take on. If he likes (it) he’s going to go after it.’ He got his pitch up and over the middle of the plate and he drilled it.”
Downey was a constant thorn in Mountville’s side, twice making extraordinary efforts to catch foul popups and also throwing out a runner trying to steal second, an almost unheard of occurence at this level.
“He’s the one who did us in,” Sauders said. “I thought Mr. Downey did an excellent job.”
And he was clearly enjoying the feel of being a champion.
“I love this tournament ! I love baseball!,” he exclaimed. “This was a great team victory. Maybe we’ll do it again.”
Mountville falls just short of goal
Andy Long and Jason Graham had a dream.
The two members of the Mountville Indians midget-midget baseball team are also newspaper carriers for the New Era and it was their goal to compete in the New Era Tournament.
Their fondest hope was to win the tournament and be able to deliver their team-championship picture to their customers.
For the longest time it seemed their goals were out of reach as Mountville languished near the .500 mark for most of the season and seemed out of the running in the Penn Manor League.
But the Indians put on a late rush and qualified, as the fourth seed from the league, for one of two play-in games for the New Era Tourney.
“We were the wild-card team coming in,” noted Indians’ coach Bob Sauders. “It didn’t even look like we were going to make it.”
The Indians pounded Manheim, the Susquehanna League third seed, 14-4 to make the field of eight, then turned in two super performances to reach the finals.
The first goal for Long and Graham had been met. But they fell a little short of the ultimate goal.
This afternoon they were delivering New Eras featuring pictures of Austin Gallagher and his Manheim Township Black teammates.
Township was the better team last night.
“It’s difficult to play three perfect games,” said Sauders, who coached his boys to thrilling 2-1 and 4-1 wins. “The last two games we were fortunate to come away with a win.”